This is the book I wrote in 2011, a journal about the poetry I was reading that year. When I’d finished it, it was far too long and unwieldy, and also I had to leave out much of my original selection of poems for copyright reasons, so I’m going to post o a few of those omitted pages on my blog. This entry dated from September, and I’d been to the Poetry Library on the South Bank to find a book of poems by Meriol Trevor., Midsummer and Midwinter. I can’t find out very much about her – she belonged to that generation of quiet English writers, like Elizabeth Taylor, Frances Towers and the recently dead Elizabeth Jenkins, who kept themselves discreetly – too discreetly – out of the male dominated babble of the literary world. She was born in 1919, of Welsh ancestry, though she didn’t speak Welsh. Educated at Cambridge she converted to Catholicism in 1950, and her biography of Cardinal Newman won the James Tait Black Memorial prize. She never married and at the end of her life lived in Bath.
I only read one of her books as a girl, Sun Slower, Sun Faster, a romantic time travel saga, which I loved.She wrote a series of chronicles about a country which she and a friend invented in childhood, and a number of stories with a Christian theme, set in the late Roman British world. The last she could not get published- fashion, which had never really embraced her, cast her out altogether. I’d like to have read it – and I wish I’d written to her before she died in 2000.
Here is one of her poems. It makes a slow start, but then moves gracefully through landscapes of the dead, starting in Italy or maybe Greece, then to London, and then to the English countryside, slightly uneasy, delicate, but startling. I especially like the last six verses , a gradual accumulation of wintery images, culminating in the sudden dazzle – and new life of Christmas. I love her deliberate use of half-rhymes; – meadows/widows, film/flame, houses, pauses.
The Days of the Dead Meriol Trevor
Mist from the earth, rather like breath
Clouding the glass of air with a flower
From a warm mouth, stays underneath
The trees and strokes the fields over
Three years earth has sighed to me
Such a breath, but the words escape;
Between shadows the people walk by
In black, going to the dead township
A great shadow is an olive tree
Holding out oil and peace, but further
Along, poking the soft sky,
Grave tongues rise, cypress and cedar.
People are all ghosts in mist
Visiting these many quiet houses,
And, like hearts never quite eased,
The bells toll with long pauses.
They come with baskets on their heads
Set like crowns: red and white
The flowers start from the dim roads,
Life and death, blood and spirit.
All night planted in the dead
Candles burn and nobody is there:
Great sun, great God, this is the seed
You made, buried in grounds of fear.
In England, in London, the great city,
No one puts candles in dead hands,
But the man who tried to blow up the mighty
Burns on a bonfire for his friends.
They shoot stars and shout : O how bright
Are the catherine wheels like universes!
And on another day they wait
For maroons to make silence of their voices.
Poppies are given to the dead, these sons
Killed in the war, poppies for sleep,
To seal lips and wounds and our groans:
The last drug for the disease of hope.
The desire under the active face
Is sleep and the closing of the grave,
And so in the north they forget these days
Of souls and the strange life they have.
London lies stiff in the slim haze
An old man town, with the ground film
Creeping in the lonely streets of his eyes,
And no sun plants his heart with flame.
Even here, on the very island’s edge,
The fort of earth whose fierce teeth
Are worn smooth by the shifting seige
Of the sea’s hordes: here comes death.
The little flocks are on the hills,
The birds slide on the icy wind,
Sunday churches ring their peals
And plows roughen the earth’s rind.
But in the night when Orion rises
The farmer dies suddenly in his bed,
And stars grow thick as daisies
Over the place where he planted seed.
All the world is walking in winter:
People in the misty and frosty meadows
Far off are shadows and they are fainter
Than trees, and they are all orphans and widows.
But the children carry the Christmas tree
And thousand are the candles on that birthday
Come sun, and open your brilliant eye,
Come God, and bring out the new baby.